Despite pressures to liberalise its economy and strong resistance to union bargaining rights from domestic constituencies, South Africa has maintained, for more than two decades, a labour relations regime which offers trade unions and workers generous rights. The article seeks to explain the bargaining system’s survival in seemingly unlikely circumstances. It argues that racial politics combined with the emergence of a trade union movement relatively independent of its nationalist ally have made the political costs of denying or retreating from a generous set of union rights prohibitive. But, while the implicit bargain may enable unions to negotiate wages and working conditions, this does not automatically mean gains for workers or the poor, for the bargaining system has proved incapable of fully resolving the conflict caused by a path dependence which ensures the persistence of racial domination in the economy.


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pp. 63-83
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